…And, the flag will forever fly…

Teaching is, in essence, a tribute to a vision. As an educator, like many of my dedicated fellow-teachers, I did not just conduct my classes within the bounds of the prescribed syllabus in fulfilment of a minimum duty to justify receiving a salary at the end of the month. I carried out my job as a mission to prepare leaders for this country, as if entire Bhutan rested on my shoulders. For me, institutions, whether public or private, are vital bulwarks for nation-building. And, so they have been.

When my colleagues asked me if I was receiving three salaries for the work that I was doing at Sherubtse for every day of the fifteen years, seven days a week, anywhere between 10 and 15 hours a day, my answer was simple: it was the minimum that I owed to my students, to my institution and to my country.

In the same spirit, I gave everything to the Royal Thimphu College and took it to the next level of excellence and honour, as noted by many hawk-eyed RTC-watchers. While at the ministry headquarters, my colleagues and I engaged the full educational machinery to discover the soul behind its role as the most critical instrument in the building of our precious nation.

There has never been an iota of doubt in my mind that my country deserved my best and I did my best in full faith that we were all contributing to the building of a happy, harmonious and prosperous nation with a bright future for our children, befitting the sublime vision of our enlightened monarchs.

Today, after some four decades of deep investment in the outer and inner life of my beautiful country, I derive a legitimate sense of joy and pride to see my students serving our precious Tsa-Wa-Sum in all the vital sectors of the society with dedication and distinction. This, in my humble educator’s scheme of priorities, is nation-building of a rare order.

When I reflect on the extraordinary vision and wise leadership of our selfless monarchs who have each given their all to secure the well-being and security of our beloved country, on the many blessings that we have received from a succession of enlightened beings, as indeed on the rare gifts of Mother Nature to this sacred spot of our good earth, we cannot ask for more.  

As a country, we have come a long way in educating our children and youth and building our national capacity to look after the well-being of our country and to take charge of its sovereign destiny. And, our youth had even earned a name around the world for their zeal to complete their studies at the earliest and return home to serve their country.

But this is a teacher’s joy that is tinged with anguish. Today, it aches my heart to see so many of our well-educated, expensively-trained and able-bodied youth desperately looking for the first opportunity to leave the country to work elsewhere. If this trend continues, there could be serious implications on the collective well-being of our small country with a tiny population coupled with several challenges.

To be sure, as a teacher having shared so many decades of my life with the children and youth of this country, I know how deeply and sincerely they love and care for our country and how each of them wants to serve her in whatever way they can, just as all citizens, regardless of circumstances or status, revere and uphold our precious Tsawa-Sum with deep affection and gratitude.

Considering the prevailing situation though, it is understandable why so many Bhutanese, including many civil servants in senior positions, are resigning and leaving the country, some with their families, whereas in the past, it was every graduate’s cherished dream to get into a government job for security and associated benefits. When we look at the challenges that our youth go through in the face of cut-throat competition often compounded by perceived or real instances of corruption, they have little option but to look for alternatives.

Who would have ever thought, for instance, that I would have to endure the kind of apathy and betrayal that I often encounter after so much sacrifice and self-denial clearly because the call of the nation has been greater than the pull of Mammon?

Some kind soul noted: “He gave everything to help build the nation, but had no time to build a roof over his head”. One may be forgiven for being perhaps the only former cabinet minister in the world without a home to call his own. When there is a bigger call, personal comfort promptly falls. I still have so much to be grateful for, and many reasons to hold fast…

And, there is no room for complacency or bitterness given the cost that we could be forced to pay as a nation in the long run if the exodus does not turn into influx in the next few years. The growing distortion in the relative economic condition within the population will be of a lesser concern than the social imbalance, cultural dissonances, and varied overall national outlook if right measures are not adopted by all stakeholders.

Given these worrying signals, it is necessary to do some deep systemic soul-searching, based on right thought to inspire right action that the Buddha taught: eliminate the double standards as our all-seeing King has often commanded, make public-service institutions more people-friendly, heal the gaping wounds, keep the divisive elements in check, create equal opportunities and enforce accountability, remove the debilitating prejudices, invest integrity in public offices, and inject some positive energy into our national life, inter alia.

The results could be deeply heart-healing and truly nation-reassuring…

Let’s be clear. Despite our neat physical size and small population as a country, a defining characteristic of our Bhutanese people is a deep and uncompromising sense of national pride, a virtuous air of confidence built over the years through a variety of historical experiences, and an essential core of goodwill and cheerfulness within a deeply spiritual and ecological cosmology.  

These vital underpinnings of the nation are manifested and lived out essentially by the people, the citizens, the living, flowing breath of the nation, through the outer as well as inner workings of their life and passed on from generation to generation as an indicator of the nation’s collective being.

Therefore, when an exodus of a country’s population takes place, it is not just a physical movement of people out or a temporary stress placed on the system or a numerical vacuum created, however worrisome they may be for a small society. Something more subtle, more insidious, more consequential accompanies such movements. In some rather imperceptible ways, they affect the nation’s psyche, its sense of confidence and sovereign soul. 

Imagine what it has taken to build this country, sweat by sweat, sacrifice after sacrifice, generation upon generation, through courage and industry often in the face of insurmountable challenges to get to where many of us enjoy the fruits of our predecessors’ ceaseless toil – whether we deserve them or not.

Imagine the personal risks that our revered King of Destiny took to secure our country’s well-being, and imagine, for once, the sacrifices that our beloved People’s King made to ensure our safety from Covid-19. And, look at our individual and collective actions!

But, certainly, go out to learn, as you choose. And, go out to earn, as you hope. But, do come back to serve, as you owe. And, truth be told: some shortcomings in the system do not define the wholeness of the nation. Who will build our country, if not you and me?

Where else on earth is the pure-land blessed by the peerless Buddha and Guru and Zhabdrung, secured by our extraordinary Kings and divine beings, and suckled by the life-breath of all-giving Mother Nature…

This beloved Druk Yul beckons you. And the Dragon Flag forever flies… Come!

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Thakur S Powdyel, Former Minister of Education.