Once upon a time by the Paa-chhu..


Counting Our Chhetrums…

Even as we begin to come to terms with the bolt from Yangtse, we are inching inexorably towards 2008. Perhaps, in our subconscious selves, we had wished for the good times to roll on to eternity. What more could a nation ask for? What else could a people want? Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, our beloved King, released the all-inspiring vision of His royal being and realized the full potential of the majesty of the serthri and committed them both to charting the destiny of our country.

The task of nation-building does not complete in one generation though. Each succeeding generation needs to add a jewel to the crown and augment the tapestry that is the nation. The call of the moment is for us, the Bhutanese citizens, to absorb and advance the promise and the possibilities shown to us in faith that we will do our part.

A nation can only be as good as its citizens. And a nation needs all its citizens to do their part, big and small, to sustain and to secure its body and soul. On the eve of the New Year, it might be a good idea to reflect on where we could begin.

The draft Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan enshrines the ideals of democracy and liberty, among other principles, which are in accord with the foundations of our Bhutanese psyche that lie in the deep recesses of our ancient spiritual traditions. However, the Bhutanese mindscape two years from now could well begin to present a varied terrain.

Democracy, in its sublime form, is an act of faith. It is an affirmation of the primacy of mutuality between the self and the other. It honours and celebrates unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Democracy takes tremendous strength of character and sense of responsibility to blossom. One hopes that we are adequately endowed with these virtues to justify the enjoyment of the rights that the Constitution gives to us.

When the times are good, we need to consciously build individuals and institutions that will value and ensure the integrity and honour of the system and the society. Even small things count. We often boast of ourselves as being part of the royal civil service. And there are thousands of us who have enjoyed the best that the system could have given us. One wonders if we have given or could have given back to the society in fair measure.

If nothing else, we could at least release some goodwill and positive energy to the society and reduce its stress and heartache. We could at least be ‘royal’ in our graciousness, ‘civil’ in our behaviour, and remember that we are there to offer ‘service’, because we are royal civil servants!

I am still amused at having felt the urgency to apologise to two fairly happy-looking women civil servants perched in their offices in our capital city for wishing them “Good morning!” Coming from distant Sherubtse of old, I must have looked a shabby irritant to classy Thimphu of yore! And, there are often stories of mighty officials lashing it out on trembling villagers who come to seek redress and solace! Not to forget that there are so many beautiful acts of grace and goodwill too.

Visitors to our country admire our landscape, our art and architecture, our culture, our dress and our hospitality. And, we are quick at making friends with people all around the world. All this is as it should be. But, we could also be talking more often with our next-door neighbour, consciously celebrating and honouring the unity and diversity that is our country, sincerely trying to heal some of the festering wounds that often threaten to divide our home.

A nation is more than industries and oil and gold even though they have their own place and importance in the scheme of national life. The laws and the courts and the machinery of governance are important to guide the life of the state. But the ultimate defence of the interests of the nation is in the hearts and minds of its citizens.

A nation has its finer and sublimer self too. This self is fed and nurtured by the deeper values, demeanours and beliefs of its people. That is why it is ever so important for the people of a nation not only to build barges and dams, ships and skyscrapers, dzongs and highways, and import the latest technology, but also to cultivate some of the social graces that sweeten life and enhance happiness. Otherwise, in time we could be a very rich country but deficient in some vital, life-sustaining dimensions.

Thanks to the rapid development in communication facilities and income, a large number of our people can now afford to travel to distant places beyond our boundaries. Bangkok is one of the favourite haunts of many of our business people. Often, the moment we step in and ask for an item, our people are quick to announce that “It is from Bangkok, and this is the price”. They may well be.

One cannot help but wish that we also imported, together with our merchandise, part of the politeness and courtesies of the salespersons at the Bangkok shopping malls who have time for smiles and greetings with folded hands for all incoming and departing customers.

Perhaps, one of the downsides of development is the thickening of skin. We are often tolerant where intolerance would be the right response, and are intolerant where tolerance might be the correct behaviour. As times change and we become more and more interdependent, our sensibilities and sensitivities would be the necessary assets to nourish our personal and social relationships.

Too often, we blame our youth when things get a little messy. And we say, we need to instruct the young in the right values and teach them the right behaviour. This is all as it should be. Having followed the life and dreams of many of our young people all through my professional career, I have come to admire and honour their idealism, their hope and their patriotism. Perhaps, it is often us the seniors who will do better with a little more of humility, honesty and self-discipline.

Our beloved King has worked tirelessly to ensure the sovereignty, security and prosperity of our country. He has put into place institutions and principles to guide the workings of the system to promote the continued well-being of the Bhutanese people.

Even as the future looks resplendent with promise and hope, we will do well to play our part in big ways and small, each to our capacity and opportunity. If we can take care of our chhetrums, ngultrums will take care of themselves.

Little things count as certainly as large doors swing on small hinges.


Thakur S Powdyel, Rinpung, Paro, 2006.