Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In response to "Bhutan, -a failed state" Part Two

Think Tanks thinks but often without thinking.
With the global publication of Fund for Peace’s report, “the failed state index 2011”, Bhutan as a nation has been asked a serious question. The report has literally tarnished the image of our beautiful country. As a responsible citizen I know my country more than any Tom Dick Harry who gathers unrelated information from online and from other biased sources. It is humiliating for our country to be declared as 50th failed state when we know the reality of our country’s stability are far more better than those stable ones.  The pain of this humiliation is too much. 

If the fund for peace as an organization claims to be a “think Tank”, well, then that leaves me with one thing on my mind. Even the think tanks find pleasure in plagiarism. I personally find it nothing more than a naïve piece of a regrettable report.

Irrespective of the truth it contains, the report is already being read worldwide. With this, every single citizen of Bhutan needs to ask a serious question to ourselves. Firstly, how did “millions of information” about our country got leaked to an organization whose existence we did not even know?
The fund for peace could have done a reasonable level of justice to their job by assessing most of the countries on the basis of parameters and indicators that are more appropriate and common. Countries could have been very well assessed on the basis a common and significant parameters like Leadership competence.

The reasons why I cite ‘leadership competence’ as a key indicator for our country are very obvious and straightforward. Countries elsewhere in the world never had leaders like we do. With the guidance of our farsighted and visionary leaders (past and present), our country has done following  major things that marveled the international community:

         i.            Given its size (both in terms of land and population) and the strategic location, Bhutan has come a very long way in history as independent, free and sovereign country. Bhutan not only  withstood all the forces of invasion and colonialism, but have also come out clean and good in times of worst depression (of 1930s) and world wars (first world war and second world war)

       ii.           With deep understanding and careful calculation of all the pros and cons that it might bring to a small country like ours, Bhutan opened its door to the forces of modernization and development (in 1960s) Today, the modernization and development process is well blended with our traditional values and ethics that it is doing more good to our country than the bad things we have anticipated.  To make it even more Bhutanese, our precious leader (the fourth king) called that development process a Gross National Happiness (GNH). Literally speaking, we are only the country that stresses more on human happiness than material well being.

      iii.    With successful modernization and development process, we then embarked on the road for democracy. We set out for democracy in a very unique fashion that shocked the entire world. “In a country that has enjoyed continuous justice, stability and progress, democracy came not by the traditional way of struggle and violence. Nor did it come by the will of people. Bhutan became democracy by the persuasion and personal effort of a king who worked consistently over thirty years to establish the prerequisites of a democratic culture and institutional arrangements”. In doing so, our king not only achieved his noble democratization process, but he has also showed that “if leaders  themselves are committed to democracy, transition can be smooth and peaceful”

     iv.           To mark his final confidence in democracy, our king retired at a prime age of 53 which is rare by any definition. He abdicated the throne in favor of our present king. For the deep rooted love and affection he has for his citizens, he is rightly referred to as the People’s king. He is the ultimate guardian of our country; -the symbol of Bhutanese unity.

       v.      Buddhism is the predominate religion in our country, but as such, our constitution doesn’t make it a state religion. Buddhism as a spiritual heritage in our country is supposed to promote principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance. This freedom to practice any religion of people’s choice leaves no room for any sectarian violence to crop up in our community. Moreover, as lucidly spelt out in our constitution, people strongly believe that religion is above politics and act and behave accordingly. Headed by Je Khenpo, Today, our religious institutions play a very vital role in propagating the principles of Buddhism.

     vi.        Today we have a fully functional democratic system in place led by some of the finest groomed leaders. Our first democratically elected Prime Minister is a living example. He is the man who not only inspired his nation about Happiness philosophy, but also inspired the leaders worldwide. His proposal to include happiness as the ninth millennium development goal (MDG) during 65th United Nations General Assembly was by far the display of genius leadership caliber that received enthusiastic response and ovation. Perhaps many countries, in the world including the UN are working to include happiness as the development theme in their respective jurisdictions.

    vii.    Apart from dynamic bureaucratic system that runs the executive show and judiciary system that dispenses the rule of law, we have also an elected legislative body that runs the legislature show. If I am not mistaken, ours is the most disciplined parliament in the world with most qualified law makers at work.

With these major information, any person should now have a fair idea as to whether our country is a failed state or thriving country. I think the Fund for Peace will now have a fair idea as to whether they have done a credible job by indexing our country as 50th failed state of the world.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

In response to "Bhutan, -a failed state" Part One

Courtesy: Fund for Peace web page
I am neither a political analyst nor an economist. Therefore the scope of any data interpretation and analysis are confined to my little understanding of the world around me. 

With this let me get straight to the topic. The recent publication of a report titled “the failed state index 2011” by a(so called) very credible global organization called ‘The Fund for Peace’ based in Washington DC, United States of America, it got me  little perplexed, more confused and deeply saddened by the fact that my country being rated as the 50th failed state of the world.  

The report states that “The failed states index is an annual ranking of 177 nations based on their levels of stability and the pressures they face. The index is based on the fund for peace’s proprietary Conflict Assessment Software Tool (CAST) analytical platform” 

 Of the 195 countries in the world, the report claims that “millions of documents” collected from 177 countries are annually analyzed using a very “specialized search parameters”. Countries are apportioned scores on the basis of Social, Economic, Political and Military which are further condensed to twelve major sub indicators. For the ease of reference and understanding it is as tabled below:

1. Social
i. Demographic Pressures
ii. Refugees / IDPS
iii. Group grievances
iv. Human Flight
2. Economic
v. Uneven development
vi. Economic decline
3. Political
vii. legitimacy of the state
viii. Public services
ix. Human rights
x. Security apparatus
4. Military
xi. Factionalized elites
xii. External intervention

An Important note reads: “the failed state index scores should be interpreted with the understanding that the lower the score, the better. Therefore, a reduced score indicates an improvement, just as a higher score indicates greater instability.”

The fund for peace also proclaims itself as “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization that works to prevent violent conflict and promote sustainable security”. Their report also claims that, it has immensely benefitted the policy makers around the world in understanding their weaknesses.

But contrary to their claims, policy makers of our country are awestruck and shocked. The remarks in the report are “unjust and irresponsible”. Their report in any sense was nothing but a grossly unfounded and outright unjustified journalism. Even though their intentions are noble, their ratings of our country on any of the sub key indicators are unacceptable. I would die defending the truth about my country and the words of my Ministers, because we are one sovereign country that has all the elements and constituents of good governance, stable political and social set up. Just like our democratic institution, our economy is doing well too. Most important of all, ours is a country where rule of law prevails. Despite all these attributes of a healthy nation, to be unjustly declared and indexed as a 50th least stable or ‘failed state’ is too much to digest.

For a Bhutanese citizen, 2008 was by far was the most successful year in the history of our country. This was not a success we celebrated in a closed door. It was in fact witnessed by the world at large. Our peaceful transition to democracy with the grand crowning of our beloved king has indeed been a global event worthy of celebrating our hundred years of unity, peace and happiness. With international observers from around the world along with the international media fraternity, it was lauded as a success. Yet we were unceremoniously ranked as the 51st least stable country in the world.

The table below shows how they have marked my country starting from the year 2008. Oblivious of its presence, it was how The Fund for Peace, have intrusively rated my country.  

12 key indicators
Year 2008
Year 2009
Year 2010
Year 2011
i. Demographic Pressures
ii. Refugees / IDPS
iii. Group Grievances
iv. Human Flight
v. Uneven Development
vi. Economic decline
vii. Deligitimization of the state
viii. Public services
ix. Human Rights
x. Security Apparatus
xi. Factionalized Elites
xii. External Intervention
Final Score

Source: “the failed state index 20011” report.

As a Bhutanese, what surprises me most are the irrelevant key indicators upon which our country is being unjustly assessed and ranked.  Without citing a proper and authentic data source, the fabricated score lines not only questions the credibility of their “specialized” assessment tools but also undermines the integrity of their (so called) global organization.
To the best of my knowledge and for the benefit of those people who published this controversial report about our country; I would like to take this time and opportunity to briefly respond to the report as a concern citizen of my beloved Country.

i)        Demographic Pressure: We are Bhutanese and therefore we always think differently. Unlike in other countries, Demography has never been pressure for our country. With an alarming birth rate of over 3% percent in early 1990s, it rather came as a blessing for a scantily populated country like ours. We Bhutanese call it as a demography progress. Based on the population and housing census report of Bhutan 2005, it states that birth rate has fallen to a most manageable rate of 1.3%. Therefore the Fund for Peace’s rating of 6.5 in 2008 and 2009, 7 in 2010 and 6.6 in 2011 needs to be seriously reconsidered.
ii)       Refugees/IDPS: This sensitive topic is also the most interesting topic. Most foreign journalist who visits our country today find it intriguing. It was in late 1960s and 1970s, when people, mostly from Nepal and India took the advantage of our porous border in the south and illegally immigrated to our country in thousands.  This called for all the Bhutanese to act decisively and defend our land form those intruders.  By any international law in practice, Getting rid of illegal immigrants is a legitimate and lawful. But sadly in our pursuit of getting those immigrants out of our country, our peaceful nation got labeled as the “ethnic cleansing nation”. Today , my country is being accused and blamed for protecting our sovereign land from those illegal immigrants.  Our scantily populated country (during those days) was too small for any political, religious and economic turmoil to surface and therefore the issue of Bhutanese fleeing their country as refugee does not arise in the very first place.  However, there were instances of criminals and traitors who fled the country to avoid justice. They later declared themselves as the refugees from Bhutan. So if at all there are (so called the) refugees from Bhutan, then they are nothing but a criminal and traitors at large. Those countries who have and are providing safe asylum to those people should be very careful themselves.
iii)     Group Grievances: As a true democratic country, Bhutan has committed its political transformation on the basis of multi political party system, but this in any way does not constitute to dividing people on the basis of party line. Of the 2 parties that contested the general election in 2008, one party won and went on to form the government, while the other one occupies the house as the Opposition party in the parliament. Not only that, we have a very apolitical National Council, which does the reviewing of both the ruling and opposition.
We are happy with the ways thing are shaping within the legal framework.  A very concern Opposition leader debating with the government, which has the might of majority, is nothing but the norms of a democratic setting.  People resenting the law (like Tobacco control act of Bhutan 2010)  would have done little to draw attention worldwide, but in truest sense,  It’s like mother having a tough job convincing his little naughty son about the ill effects of over eating chocolates.  If Fund for Peace considered those democratic norms as a group grievance, then their selection of key indicators are grossly mistaken
iv)     Human Flight:  is totally irrelevant key indicator (for Bhutan).  To us, Human flight is a phenomenon where people flee their country numbering in hundreds and thousands. This movement of people from their own country to avoid the casualties of war and conflict are called human flight. But In our country, peace and tranquility are things we have in bounty. Therefore, a gruesome thing called human flight doesn’t even exist in our country. So it is very unjust and annoying thing to see our country scoring a high instability sore as high as 6 to 7 in all the years. 
v)      Uneven Development:  is the concern raised both at the national level as well as in the international level, because an uneven development is problem of world at large. This is also an issue related to the decision of investors and market force.  In talking about this parameter, lets us also not forget that Bhutan started its plan development activities as late as 1961.Now as enshrined in our constitution, balanced regional development is being vigorously fostered by our government.
The economy that struggled with barter system has now come alive with all basic infrastructures and the latest technologies in the world. Most rural villages are now connected with cellular and road net works. Very soon, every single household will be also supplied hydro power which will make all economic activities feasible in their locality.  Besides these facilities, the most necessary facilities like schools, health care centers and other sanitary facilities are equally available both in rural and urban places. This is expected to have a long term positive impact in curbing rural urban migration. It will not be long before all the regions will also develop like our capital city. Taking the real facts into consideration (, the score line for our country is unjustified.
vi)     Economic Decline: the Fund for Peace’s report indicates that Bhutan’s economy virtually remained stagnant in the year of 2009 and 2010 with a lamenting score line of 7.5  Suddenly  for 2011, with a score line of 6.9, it indicates that there was a sluggish progress being made.
But the actual figure shows that our economy actually grew by decent 6% percent. Thanks to the policy guidelines from our democratically elected leaders, we still managed to steer our economy from entering into a recession phase when the western economic giants were struggling with debt crises, soaring unemployment and the credit crunch. At the height of home foreclosures in US, our construction industries actually thrived. The construction of mega hydro power industries are some living examples for anyone to see for themselves.
Today many of the donor agencies are planning to withdraw their aid. They say Bhutan has now reached a stage where it can stand on its own feet. This in other words means that our country has actually progressed much more than we have anticipated.          
vii)   legitimacy of the State:  it’s an alarming thing know that our country scoring a very high score here with another irrelevant indicator. The world knows that Bhutan is as independent and as sovereign as those most stable nations.
With all the constituents of a healthy nation like competent leadership, prevalence of rule of law and non violent religion, ours is nothing but a perfect example of a living legitimate nation. It is very irresponsible for any organization to rank us as unstable on this indicator.
viii)  Public Services: in Bhutan are provided by the most civil and dynamic set of people known as civil servants. As enshrined in the constitution, it’s the most apolitical and independent body that has the mandate of serving public in most efficient, transparent and accountable manner.
Today, with the help of information technology, the public service has not only become reliable but has also become more transparent and efficient.  The information technology has also enabled public to avail services online. Of many such services, issuance of online security clearance certificate, online audit clearance certificate and online banking facilities are some examples for those people who are ignorant and oblivious of the Bhutanese public service system.
To further promote the public service delivery system and to up hold the constitutional mandate, the national anti corruption commission is also being set up to fight the corruption along with the Audit authority, that reports on economy, efficiency and effectiveness  in the use of public resources.
Bhutan being small and still in developing stage, some public service may have fallen short or may have even failed to live up to the expectations of its citizens,  But this doesn’t mean they are being ignored and forgotten. We have a mechanism of recording all the shortfalls and improving it at later. Believe it or not, we are only the country where a citizen can call directly to the Prime Minister to share his grievances.
ix)     Human Rights: The Fund for Peace’s casual consideration of this important point is even more ridiculous and unpalatable. Bhutan has always committed and accorded highest priority to the protection of Human rights. To prove our commitment we have not only set up numerous autonomous and independent human right watch dog and NGOs at our national level but have also  become signatory to the many human right conventions in the international level too.
If we carefully examine our constitution, it could be the only constitution in the world that confers its citizen more fundamental rights than any other things. We are also a country, which stresses more on happiness than on material well being. Guided by Buddhism, which promotes non violence and compassion, human rights values are something that are actually ingrained in our blood. 
There is a genuine need for Fund for Peace to relook into their report.  They should either visit our country to find the facts for themselves or completely do away with their ridiculous and undeserving way of ranking our country. It’s my earnest information to Fund for Peace that Bhutan is not as close as you people think.
x)      Security Apparatus: carefully examining the Fund for Peace’s report, Bhutan initially scored 4.6 in 2008. In 2009, it again scored a decent ranking of 5.5 followed by 5.8 in 2010. What surprises us more is that in 2011, the score line drastically rose to 6.2.
We are not sure as to what the actual definition of security apparatus is. But strictly speaking in Bhutanese terminology, security of a nation is something more than having standing army brigade equipped with sophisticated weapons. It’s securing our nation by way of preserving our national identity; -culture, tradition and conserving our rich biodiversity.
Based on these security parameters, our beloved king recently took the initiative of downsizing the standing army. Comparing this royal initiative with the Fund for Peaces report, we can fairly draw a conclusion that for Fund for Peace, the standing army is more important aspect of security apparatus.
xi)         Factionalized elite: is a relatively a newer concept. If factional elitism is reality as reported, then it’s a worrisome affair. With this let us all hope that these undesirable incidents do not occur in our peaceful country.
Currently, all people of Bhutan, irrespective of any cast, creed, color are treated equal. The rule of law prevails everywhere. The article 9 of the constitution of the kingdom of Bhutan (principles of state policy) takes care of everything.   
xii)            External Intervention: As stated, we are a very sovereign and independent country. To borrow our acting foreign ministers words, “we are aid-dependent country”. This doesn’t mean that there is any foreign intervention. We frame our own policies and rules befitting to ourselves. Therefore the question of “external intervention” is illogical. 

To be Continued in Part two...............................................
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The world in the eyes of Phuntsho, a dog from Shingkhar.

This is me, Phuntsho. 
This is how my relative looks in the dog pound.

When it comes to explicit expression of my thoughts, I look little disoriented because I am a dog from rural Bhutan. I am also little uncomfortable introducing myself in this public forum, because I have a very bad phobia of facing the crowd or being read by public. With this, there are imminent possibilities that I might miss some lines in between. So I humbly beg your pardon for all the wrongs I might say in due course of time.

Well, to begin with, my name is Phuntsho and I am form Bumthang, Ura, Shingkhar. Stressing my male status, people often call me Phuntsho La. I don’t know which scientific and biological breed I belong to, but the very fact that I dwell in the mountains of Shingkhar; along with the yaks, people have the tendency of referring to me as bjob-khee; roughly meaning, a dog form a highland.

 Having lived in the luxury and comfort of this beautiful land for so many years, I feel the dogs and people in Shingkhar share a very symbiotic relationship. This relationship among the dogs and humans are the most unique in our animal kingdom. Therefore it deserves a second closer look. The historical references today show that humans and dogs shared a bond based on trust and mutual benefit.  Humans feed the dogs and dogs in return protected people from intruders,-both animals and humans.  The dogs not also acts like an alarm to alert people from the approaching dangers but was also once revered to for possessing a prophetic instinct of foreseeing future events.

As a dog, the traits like ferocity and aggressiveness are something people most often sought after. As a result, our dogliness are sometime gauged on the basis of fear and terror our presence created. There was once a saying that ‘even after its death, the presence of a good dog will be felt for three long years,  where as a presence of a good human, after his death will only be felt for only three short nights’. Such was the importance and privilege dogs enjoyed in human society.

Today things have changed both in dog world and human world. Except for few tiny upsoos and ludicrous looking dogs, the regard and respect we as a species have for each other seem to have fallen to the lowest unimaginable grade in the history of this civilization. Some say this is to be credited for a force called development and progress, while there are also others who say, it is because of the ever compounding human greed human anxiety.

Unlike my relatives who dwell in the streets of urban towns, I am a very happily fed dog, because I have a very loving and caring owner. Having lived in the pristine mountains in the company of rich milking yaks, I did not have to face the harsh realities of this dog world like them. For I was least affected, the news of famine, malnourished, mange and poverty that claimed the lives of my relatives on daily basis did little to bother me.

Of late, my loving owner has fallen sick. I believe his disease is more of a natural one that comes along with old age. His weak body withered by the hardship and privation of his life and age looks shrunken and wilted. Therefore, even though his recovery is a promising possibility, his return to the mountains with us remains a very grim prospect.   

Today I am a very busy dog. I have virtually become a migratory dog on daily basis. I spend my days travelling between the mountains and my owner’s residence.  I do this because I have my tradition to preserve as the proud Bjob-Khee in the mountain with yaks. And in similar manner I frequent my owner’s residence to meet my ailing owner, who treated me at par with his own kids. It’s through this movement I get myself more exposed to both human world and dog world.

Development has not only brought progress to the human world but has also created a wide gap between us. With ever widening gap, it’s a sad reality that we, the dogs are considered worthless animals known only for howling and other nuisances. Human world tend to forget that howling is our birth right and that it was once our way of reciprocating the love and care of our ancestral owners bestowed us.

 Human world at the dizzy height of its advancement and development, they look all the more confusing. Once a fun loving human have today become slave to their desires and dreams. Their lives have become so scheduled that they have no time even for their loved ones. When they have no time for their aged parents and toddling young ones, how can they find time for dogs like us?

I was told that my relatives somewhere in the west have failed to use family planning and therefore resulted in a population explosion.  Humans thought this was unacceptable and hence resorted to down seizing the population. Apart from the sterilization process, few heartless humans have also resorted to inhuman slaughtering of my fellow being by way of mass poisoning. They have also dumped many of my fellow beings alive in freezing water with all the limbs and legs tied with ropes.

Apart from being accused for our careless reproduction ways, we are also blamed for bringing in fleas and scabies in summer. It is believed in the human world that seasonal ailments like scabies have today become a life threatening. By virtue of being a dog, I know we are species susceptible to skin diseases like mange. And I will not be surprised if the mange in dog world is caused by climate change, for which Homo sapiens –humans- themselves are to be blamed.

Today, we are even hated more for being responsible in the spread of deadly disease called rabies. Researches in the human world have found out that we are very dangerous animals. They think and believe they have all the data to prove their claims. But these days, I am very skeptical about the human way of doing research, because some humans think a mere flipping of pages, occasional Googeling and reading is a research for them. I am very afraid because humans will soon consider reading news papers on weekends as research!

I thought every dog born in Bhutan are the luckiest and most fortunate dog on this planet. I also thought that it is due to the positive karmic merits that we were all born in the country that stresses more on happiness than on material wealth.  But recently with the ever growing and expanding of tourism industry in the country, our luck and fortune seem to have run out fast. Those tourists have extensively complained about our tradition of howling and barking in the nights. To the amazement of dog world, few locals have even started believing in the foreign idea of quite night. Isn’t this idea very strange? To be very honest, humans have themselves become more nocturnal than us!

What those nagging tourist and few locals do not understand is that, in Bhutan we have very less noise pollution compared to their metro and sonorous homes. The noise in the air by our lone national carrier, the Drukair and the noise from our small and compact traffic are so minimal that people often mistake the most urban city like Thimphu to a small monastery and a village. In this light, their protest is nothing but a human exaggeration of the societal norm.

Sadly, in response to all the rumbling complaints, humans have today chosen to build a prison for us in the name of dog pound. Humans call it a home for needy dogs and some even say its good place for dogs to be. But for a dog world, it’s the most dreaded place on earth. It’s a jail where dogs are imprisoned for life. It’s the price every dog will pay for disturbing the otherwise snoring humans, because barking and howling have now become a criminal offence and as per human definition, it’s treated at par with a felony of first degree.

To add fuel on already burning fire, not realizing their own problem under their own nose, there are also some humans who think dogs have become uncontrollable. They have even gone to an extent of teaching authorities, the ways to affectively deal with dog problems. It’s very alarming to know that they want our species wiped off completely. They are planning genocide against the dog world. God save the dogs!

Amidst all this chilling news, I can see a glimmer of hope in a distant horizon. I heard that few humans have now formed an association to protect destitute animals like us. I also heard that the association is being chaired and supported by none other than a god like lama and other humans too. I hope and pray that this association prevails for eternity like our species.

For now, I have to heed back to mountains of Shingkhar, because I have a business there. I will be there so long as the metabolism in my body fights the freezing temperatures caused by cold and dry winds. When I am old, I hope to resign like my predecessors, late Woogpala, late Domchung and late Lingkala. I wish to live a very peaceful retired life with my owner circumbulating Shingkhar lhakhang. I will wish and pray the entire humans and dogs, a very harmonious coexistence for the countless centuries to come.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Once upon a time when I was jobless and broke.

Picture Courtesy: Google
After graduation, a decent job that earns a decent pay check is something that every college going students dream of. But most often than not and as the theory goes, many have to bear the burns and blaze of realities like cut-throat competition for jobs. The cruel competition for ever shrinking job opportunities invariably keeps, -so called the fresh graduates in period of jobless limbo. Being jobless hurts and hurts even more when limbo prolongs. Since the sole purpose of education is perceived as finding a job at the end, an affair of being jobless is often considered as the most nervous, helpless and anxious moment in one’s life.

Having said those lines, I have had my own share of jobless limbo too. But contrary to what has been described, my jobless limbo has rather been adventurous and fun. Seemingly done with my busy student life, I felt that was the most memorable time I spent as a young man.

Precisely, my limbo went on at stretch for 12 months, during which I had the pleasure of witnessing some of the most fascinating events in my life.

To begin with, here is how it goes. Being born in rural village, I had to travel to capital city more in the interest of keeping myself abreast with the information of employment and job which are mostly confined to only capital city. The cost of living in city was surely a bad blow for the economy of my farming parents but we felt the cost was worth bearing.

Once in City, my presence not only added another number to the lengthy list of young job seekers but also added another burden to my relatives who lived there. Since I had few cousins, it was rather a cousinly burden I created for them to bear. I was an anomaly TV watcher then. With my little nephews and niece, I remember settling mostly with Tom and Jerry programs and other programs on cartoon network. In other words their choice prevailed most of the time. With this they were nothing but an annoying piece of little creatures. But surprisingly we had one common program to watch; we all enjoyed the Wrestling program on Tensports! I would often treat them with ice creams and chocolates when I felt happy and satisfied.

Then in day time, it used to be a business as usual. It was the time for birds of same feather to flock together. I joined my friends in rambling which mostly took place in the main city. We wandered among the shops and restaurants. Initially with enough pocket money, I recollect how we fondly lunched in restaurants that sold sikkam paa (Pork) and shakam paa (dry beef) with red rice. When those provisions ran out, there were times I either stopped appearing in the city completely or made an in invited guest in one of my friend’s cousin’s, uncle’s aunt’s and sibling’s house.

Those were indeed the most defining period in my life. I learnt a great deal about the expected norms of being guest, (invited or uninvited) starting form general behavior to ways one eats, drinks and talks to the host. As much as it was my privilege to have come across good hosts that acknowledged my presence with tea followed by meals, it has also been my sad fortune to have been disregarded as guest on different occasions too. There is a famous saying: “treat your overnight guest at par with god”.  With this, I thought to myself that some people got it right and some, not so right.

As a guest, I truly did not like sticking to one place all the time.  To give my host some breathing space and most deserving privacy, I often went out for a night or two along with my friends. Young, and easy, I enjoyed those nights like no other. I normally slept in the living room (known more as sting room in Bhutan) on sofas, but there were instances where, sometimes my host honored me as “future Officer” and offered me a bed in the altar room.

Amidst all this events, there was also one thing which got my attention and still lingers afresh in my mind. There was this notion that: “if you are a man then act like one”. Even though my provisions were barely enough to sustain my daily wandering, I firmly remember visiting not only bars but also the gambling hubs.

By nature, I was not a boozer but in the company of friends who booze, it was as simple as saying “when in Rome, be a Roman”. This act of being Roman often resulted in a nasty situation; I got hit or hit the person in the process. The otherwise good looking bartender (mostly Ladies) who welcomed us with smiling face would have lots to complain afterwards.

Coming back to gambling hub, it was all a coincidence. The bar I frequented not only catered booze to drinkers but also provided a safe haven to gamblers deep inside. As the gamblers took their gambling positions, I remember seeing their glittering faces . They were mostly ladies who had lips clad in glossy lip sticks and nails, polished and well nurtured. Their carefully threaded eye brows decorated with black mendi, looked all the more appealing and attractive. The otherwise drowsy bar soon became alive with the scent of their imported perfumes.

Later, on my closer association with the bartender, I came to know that they were mostly from business background. “Some are actually the wives of our ‘Dashos’” .He whispered to me. As the gambling progressed inside, I could sense some smoking profusely. The bartender frequented the room to attend their needs like booze and beers along with salad and meat. There were rumors that some even lost their expensive cars in course of gambling!

If being man was something than acting like one has even been more interesting. As an unemployed young man, my future was still very far from considering it as secured one. With unsecured future, the question of having a girlfriend was not only self restricting affair but was also an unaffordable business too. So to exercise my manly franchise, all I did was frequented my lady friends either for a cup of coffee or for a prolonged discourse on various topics.

As a popular saying goes: what goes around must come around. I often went back to my village in between to brief my parents about the progress of my job search. I remember briefing them with all the positivity in my endeavor. But my unconvinced nephew in the village had other preconceived notions. He thought that I was more of a liability to my parents and that I actually did not have a place to stay on this earth.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

My trip to Sector 29, Faridabad, India

Last November, I was nominated to undergo drug law enforcement training in Delhi. It was computer based training. The duration of the training was four days and we were four from Bhutan.

 To me, India is a place where ranks mattered everything. I have even heard stories of official differentiation based in ranks and positions. To this end, I was repeatedly advised by my colleague to inflate my rank (Asst. Customs Officer) when I go there. Even though my promotion date was still more than a month away, I took his words and got my business card printed with my next higher rank (Asst. Collector of Customs)
As a normal human being and more so as a Bhutanese official, I had a very high expectation form my overseas training. Eighty percent deduction of DSA was certainly such a sad and bad news because higher DSA, cozy free rooms, comfortable economy class travel and good foods to eat were some of the things that every officials immediately start to fantasize.
We were also initially issued our travel itinerary to Delhi via Katmandu.
At home, I was busy packing my bag when my tiny purple nokia phone rang. It was from my supposedly team leader. He sounded so uncomfortable. But he had a clear message -the initial itinerary has been cancelled and that the organizers are looking for other options. He again rang me up hours later and said that I have to take a Taxi from Paro till Bhagdora. He was to me, a father of bad news. Overseas travel in Taxi was the last thing I had envisaged.  The fear of catching cough and cold from the bumpy, dusty and perilous high way was a very much foreseeable state of affairs. Being severe sinusitis patient, the fear of having to suffer a severe nasal congestion was even worse and terrifying than the word fear itself. With multitude of thoughts gushing my psyche, I finished packing my small bag.
In the evening, I went to alter alone and lit up a butter lamp; I made a sincere and ardent prayer to the almighty god. My prayers were honest and direct. I am in no mood to take a bumpy ride in a stinking taxi at an exorbitant fare and I am not willing to empty my savings account for the trip apparently sponsored by international organization. –United Nation’s Office for Drugs and Crime.
The next day, I reached Phuntsholing, the commercial hub of Bhutan. My homely colleague there welcomed me with a grand dinner.  Weakened by the bumpy ride in the back seat of the scorpion car, I fell fast asleep in a cozy bed near his newly procured alter. I slept so well that even the fierce lone female mosquito’s attack did too little to disturb my sleep.
If my previous day’s journey had weakened me, my journey next day crippled me. The food became tasteless and my nose became use less. The difficulty of having to breathe meant that I had to use lot of nasal drops which had an adverse affect on my health.
By mid day we were in Bhagdora, eager and ready to begin our travel portion by air. We all looked very pale and exhausted. The trip reminded me of the poem by Nissim Ezekiel ‘The Enterprise’ where he says “trip had darkened every face”. Surely the long distance travel has taken its toll on all of us.
We had our lunch with half cooked chicken curry in a small crowded restaurant.  We were served with water directly fetched from the tap by an under aged waiter.
Lunch served! It was time for us to head to airport to catch our flight.  In the gate, our air tickets were checked by a man who claimed to be the security official. Moments later we were inside the crowded terminal building where passengers scurried everywhere. We got our bags weighed and we checked in.
Suddenly someone announced delay of three hours for our flight. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to hear. There were passengers grumbling and sleeping. The people from the air line frequently came to update the information.

After three long hours, we finally boarded the flight only to hear that our flight being delayed again by another sixty long minutes.
Having waited for almost four long and grueling hours, the plane finally took off. The Flight was scheduled to Delhi via Gauhati. It turned out to be the longest journey for me. The half cooked chicken very well did its job of upsetting my stomach.
Never the less, at around midnight our group landed in Delhi safe and sound. A man named Om Prakash was there to receive us with his toyota indica car. He drove us through the dusty roads and bustling streets of Delhi. After taking many twists and turns, we finally reached to a place where our training was scheduled to take place -The Sector 29 in Faridabad city. The signboard at the gate read “National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics”. I saw few people waiting for us and when our car stopped, two young men came and helped us in unloading the bags from the car.
To my surprise and disbelief, an elderly man led two of us to a different room, some hundred meters away from our friends –The Manda kini apartments. The building looked very old in the midnight street light and there were visible signs of water leakage all around the lobby.
He gave us the key and disappeared instantly. As I opened the door, I found the room no better than the hostel where I stayed during my college days. There was a fourteen inch TV with no cable connection, empty but noisy old refrigerator, broken side table with no doors, wardrobe fitted in the wall with old news papers in it, small water boiler and a small quarter plate with few fresh banana and imported apples. Of all, the toilet appeared most pathetic. The lid of the pot was broken beyond repair, the dust on the window panes have become like a solid rock. With this brief inspection, I went to bed thinking that my rank inflation magic has served no purpose.
Soon I was awakened by my friend next door. He had all sort of ideas to protest. I soon followed his suit because we had all gone there in capacity of officials representing different departments and not as assistants and junior officers. This differentiation was too much to believe so we decided to immediately shift our belongings to other colleague’s room.

Next morning, two of us protested but it fell on the deaf ears. We were neither given new room nor being given the refund. It was Sherpa Dhaju’s delicious food in the mess that kept us going for the entire training session.
Back in the room, we made the best use of all the facilities available in our colleague’s room. We ate all the fresh fruits and biscuits in the quarter plate, emptied the tea stuffs, and used toothpaste and soaps to its exhaustion point. I realized that it was one good experience.
Every evening we went out either to shop or to dine. We sometimes got lost in the middle of seemingly law less city. I remember an incident where an auto operator mistakenly dropped us in sector 19 when we were supposed to go to sector 29.
I think this is how a normal Bhutanese official tells his overseas travel story.
Well, I will  tell my story about the knowledge I gained from the training at later stage, if I remember it rightly.
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